PEORIA MAGAZINE March 2023
get it off our back and lower my taxes.” As a result, he operated under the belief that his seat on Appropriations wasn’t meant to generate pork for projects back home, but to direct resources where they were most needed. HE LABELED HIMSELF ‘DUMBSTRUCK’ WHEN STATE LAWMAKERS VOTED TO NAME THE BOB MICHEL BRIDGE AFTER HIM “He was kind of the old-fashioned politician. He did the hard work, he got the job done, but then he never really bragged about it. He never really cranked out a lot of press releases to try to impress people,” longtime aide and eventual successor Ray LaHood recalled in a WTVP-TV interview as Michel's tenure ended. BRINGING HOME THE BACON Michel got better at steering federal dollars to central Illinois after barely surviving a tough re-election race, just as he'd been selected House minority leader. Still self-effacing, he took a dim view of legislators who ushered along projects to be named after themselves. In fact, he labeled himself “dumbstruck” when state lawmakers voted to name the Bob Michel Bridge after him, letting out a trademark non-expletive of frus tration in one interview: “I said, ‘Jiminy Christmas, that's the one thing I've been arguing against all the time!” (He put the kibosh on a similar effort that arose after he secured federal money to par tially fund a new building for Bradley's School of Communications and Fine Arts, though the school’s student center just blocks from his Uplands home does honor his BU connections.) Without his efforts, countless other pieces of the local landscape, from Interstate 155 to modernized National Guard facilities at Peoria’s airport, wouldn’t look as they do. Along the way, he established a high standard for constituent service – something central Illinois has come to
Corinne and Bob Michel pose with their family, including their grandchildren and four children
expect from its lawmakers at all levels. And he supported and nurtured the staff that provided it, helping many grow into the next two generations of leaders in the government, business and not-for-profit worlds. “When you worked for Bob Michel, you were a part of his family,” LaHood said. “He cared as much about you as a staffer as he did any one of his children or grandchildren.” IN THE MINORITY, BUT EFFECTIVE Under his watch as minority leader in the House, Michel stressed collaboration among his colleagues. He told his caucus, “I don’t personally crave the spotlight of public opinion. My job is to orchestrate your many talents. I know some of you prefer to speak quietly, like woodwinds, and some very loudly, as brass and percussion. But our measure of success is how well we harmonize.” It was a spirit of comity that stands in contrast with the more bombastic leaders who’d follow. It led to success in bridging gaps between Democrats and Republicans.
Reforms to Social Security and federal income taxes were passed into law, still heralded four decades later. Michel's style in attracting bipartisan support reflected his personal style: honey, not vinegar. Michel “taught us the importance of listening and respecting another person’s view, even if you didn’t agree with him,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said while memorializing Michel weeks after his death in 2017. ‘OUR MEASURE OF SUCCESS IS HOW WELL WE HARMONIZE’ — Bob Michel “He showed us that consensus is not weakness, and principled, intelligent compromise is not capitulation – it’s how a democracy works.”
Chris Kaergard is communications manager and associate historian at Pekin’s Dirksen Congressional Center. He is a former newspaper reporter and editor
86 MARCH 2023 PEORIA MAGAZINE
Made with FlippingBook Digital Proposal Maker